Donna-Ann Thomas, MD, is an anesthesiologist and the chief of pain medicine for Yale Medicine. She cares for patients at the Yale Spine Center and at Yale New Haven Hospital. Her specialty is managing pain associated with cancer, headaches and complex regional pain syndrome (chronic pain that that can affect a limb after an injury).
According to Dr. Thomas, the goal at Yale Medicine is to offer a variety of approaches to treat pain, and to emphasize the newest and most innovative approaches. Two new procedures available at Yale include paravertebral blocks (of the spinal nerve) and tap blocks (of the peripheral nerves). Both are techniques for injecting anesthetics that may not be available at smaller hospitals.
A priority for Dr. Thomas is finding ways to manage pain without the risk of opiod addiction, which is a growing concern in health care. Acknowledging that “Opiod medications help with surgical pain,” Dr. Thomas says they can be especially useful for patients who have joint replacements, spine or heart surgeries, or for those with painful broken bones. However, she says these medications pose a serious risk of addiction and misuse, especially if pain pills are used after surgery for reasons other than managing pain.
“Our goal is to reduce the use of opiod medications by using other types of medications and regional anesthesiology,” Dr. Thomas says. Options include using local anesthetics to block pain signals to nerves, and sometimes trying to manage the pain with over-the counter medications, such as ibuprofen.
Every patient reacts differently to pain, according to Dr. Thomas, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Yale School of Medicine. “What works for one patient may not work for another. My philosophy is to treat every patient as I would a family member. If I tell a patient I think this is the best approach, I hope they understand that I would make the same recommendation for a family member or for myself.”